Case Study: Quahaug Point House by Estes Twombly Architects

With a backyard sloping down to Quonochontaug Pond, this house is in the enviable position of providing access to the Atlantic Ocean. In summer, the outdoorsy owners can load their coolers into a kayak and paddle across the pond to spend the day on the beach. Conceived as a multigenerational camp—a magnet for the couple’s four grown sons and grandkids—its main job is to be deeply involved with the outdoors.

Estes Twombly excels at such work. The firm is well known for its taut coastal houses rooted in the land and the modest forms of rural barns and fishing shacks. Like the Quahaug Point House, they often read as separate structures lightly connected by pergolas, walkways, or changes in roofline, inviting a view here, a breeze there. Low-upkeep materials, too, take cues from the regional vernacular, with the use of metal roofs, weathered cedar shingles, wood decks and connectors, and local stone.

Located in a wooded area, this house is set back from the road on a high point to capture views south across the pond to the ocean, says associate Adam Titrington, AIA, who took point on the commission. “The entry side has a beautiful forested feel, and the back, which had been previously cleared down to the water, has a lawn and naturally occurring boulders.” The clients, who live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, wanted a practical, hard-wearing house with a light footprint. “They’re an active family and love lawn games and cooking,” Adam says. “They wanted an indoor-outdoor house that they could leave open to the air as much as possible.”

If there was a challenge, it was the narrow buildable area: a 140-foot-wide lot with a 40-foot setback on each side. The architects responded with a roughly L-shaped structure whose long, narrow, two-story bedroom wing runs north-south perpendicular to the road. The other volume, a one-story great room, forms a right-angle parallel to the view, opening to a screened porch and terraces on the south and west. “The bedroom wing protrudes forward because we wanted to keep the screened porch as open as possible and not impede views,” Adam says. “At the entry, you can see straight through between the wings to the water.”

The great’s room’s pitched roof provides a south-facing surface for the home’s 7kW-hour photovoltaic system, while a flat, planted roof joining the two volumes offsets energy use and manages rainwater. “The flat roof divides the massing,” Adam says. “The idea is that there are these smaller buildings like a summer camp, connected in the landscape through paths.

The entry progression lies at the nexus of this programmatic shift.  From the gravel parking court, a pergola and bluestone pathway lead alongside the bedroom wing to the front door. The bluestone stitches the house to the land by crossing the threshold and running through the foyer, sandwiched between the den and great room. From there it continues into the screened porch, which terminates the entry axis, before spilling out to bluestone terraces.

Equal Access

Whatever the program’s particulars, designing a family getaway is about putting the money on the public spaces. These practical clients thought so too. “They didn’t want to overbuild, especially the bedrooms,” Adam says. While the bedroom wing contains the master suite, a second en suite bedroom, and a third bedroom, downstairs the den flexes as another sleeping area or place to stash a crib. In an ideal setup, the clients own an existing cottage next door that absorbs any spillover, along with a yurt they erected.

With overnight needs addressed, the architects stretched the living and dining areas along the water. While the house’s stone and shingles are regionally inspired, the great room’s oversized sliders, steel windows and doors, and exposed steel tie rods add modern, pavilion-like elements. Asked for an ample working kitchen where “exuberant cooks” could make a mess, Adam sketched a space that is open to the great room but set back on the north, slightly offset from the living and dining area. A good-sized butler’s kitchen and pantry is tucked around the corner, and a side door opens to the west terrace containing a grill and kitchen garden. The kitchen has two refrigerators—one is kept in the pantry—two dishwashers, and a wine rack incorporated into the large island, which functions as storage and a sideboard for entertaining. Washed-ash floors and ash veneer cabinetry match the materials used elsewhere in the house, and a gray-green tile backsplash adds a reflective pop of color.

With its abundance of light and cross-ventilation, the great room benefits from being a separate volume. Its south wall is all glass, with sliders that open directly to the terraces and the screened porch. “The sliders can be left open so the porch becomes part of the house,” Adam says.

These fluid indoor-outdoor spaces evolved as the landscape architect got on board. “There is almost equal entertaining space outside, and enough separate places for people to do different activities such as eating, grilling, or reading, just like inside,” Adam says.

On the quieter eastern side, the screened porch leads out to a reading patio landscaped for privacy. An outdoor shower is here too, near the side laundry-room door behind the den—a convenient stopover for washing up after a day at the beach. “It’s the inversion of the typical mudroom, which is associated with cars at the front of house,” Adam says.

Au Naturel

Judging by the number of boulders protruding from the earth, the construction crew expected to encounter a few more during excavation. But once digging commenced, they hit an almost solid wall of them. Talking to local excavators, they learned that when the foundation for the adjacent house was dug years ago, excavated boulders were buried on this property. Undaunted, “the clients challenged us to use as many as we could in the landscape,” Adam says. In fitting contrast to their formal Cambridge garden, “the rocks are used as an obstacle course for croquet games on the lawn and integrated into terraces and along the entry.”

Indeed, the hump-backed boulders complement the building’s natural materials. Garapa was used to link the landscape elements. The great room is clad in a Garapa rainscreen that also wraps the kitchen garden fencing on the west, drawing the front façade out into the landscape. The wood also encloses the outdoor shower. Durable Alaskan yellow cedar, left unfinished, clads the other walls, including the soffits. And the dark, standing-seam metal roof coordinates with the bronze anodized windows.

The design and detailing addressed the owners’ request for a modern-looking home with low operating costs. “Historically, coastal homes in our area have been Shingle-style in the Robert Stern tradition, but we’re starting to see more transitional de-signs with streamlined, contemporary interiors,” says builder Tim O’Neill, a partner at Evergreen Building Systems. “Good air sealing, closed-cell spray foam, flashing, and providing for drainage planes with the rainscreen detail are critical to long-term durability.” In addition to the photovoltaic system, O’Neill installed a high-efficiency geothermal heating and cooling system, and a car charging station anchors the permeable parking court.

Not only are geothermal systems resource-efficient, they eliminate the need for unsightly and potentially noisy condensers outside the house, adding to its unencumbered, wash-and-wear appeal. For Adam, the project’s success reflected the strength of the team. “It was a great process, one of those special projects where everyone was engaged and on the same page,” he says.

Plans and Drawings

Project Credits

Quahaug Point House

Westerly, Rhode Island

ARCHITECT: Peter Twombly, AIA, principal in charge; Adam Titrington, AIA, project architect, Estes Twombly Architects, Newport, Rhode Island

BUILDER: Evergreen Building Systems, Stonington, Connecticut

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Robyn Reed, studio cosmo, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR: Landscape Creations of Rhode Island, S. Kingston, Rhode Island

PROJECT SIZE: 3,000 square feet

SITE SIZE: 2 acres


PHOTOGRAPHY: Warren Jagger Photography

Key Products

CABINETRY: Custom rift ash


CLADDING: Alaskan yellow cedar shingles, garapa rainscreen

COUNTERTOPS: Caesarstone, Corian


DOOR HARDWARE: FSB levers, Accurate flush pulls and Hafele roller and track (pocket doors)



INTERIOR DOORS: Select Door, rift ash veneer

KITCHEN FAUCETS: Hansgrohe Focus HighArc, Dornbracht


LANDSCAPE PAVERS: Thermal bluestone reclaimed granite curbing

LANDSCAPE PRODUCTS: Soapstone countertop, Garapa outdoor cabinetry and fencing, bluestone edging, Mexican river stone

LIGHTING: Hunza, Sonneman (exterior), Lucifer, Poulsen, Moooi (interior)



PAINTS: Benjamin Moore



ROOFING: Englert standing seam

SINKS: Kohler, Fairmont

SOLAR PANELS: Newport Solar


TILE: Heath Tiles (kitchen backsplash), Quemere Designs (shower)


WINDOW SHADING SYSTEMS: Lutron, Hunter Douglas

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